Chimpanzee Conservation Center
Located in Guinea, the Chimpanzee Conservation Center (CCC) is a sanctuary established in 1997 to address increasing emergency situations in chimpanzee populations. Located in Upper Guinea in the National Park of Upper Niger, CCC has three major goals:
- Rescue orphaned chimpanzees confiscated by the Guinean government, give them the best possible living conditions and rehabilitate them for a return to the wild when possible.
- Release of the chosen chimpanzees after a long rehabilitation process so that they may return to the wild – a life they never should have had to leave.
- Educate the local people about the threat of extinction of these chimpanzees as a means to fight against illegal trafficking.
Sheltering and rehabilitating chimpanzees
The CCC rehabilitates orphaned chimpanzees who are victims of the pet trade and who’s mothers and often other group members have been killed for bushmeat. Upon arrival at CCC, chimpanzees often have serious health conditions that need around the clock care. They most often suffer from skin and respiratory diseases, psychological disorders related to abuse and captivity as well as malnutrition. After a period of quarantine, the chimpanzees are integrated with a group of their peers.
Chimpanzees found in establishments or in private homes are seized by the Guinean Government and taken to the CCC. The first goal of CCC is to offer their new residents the best possible living conditions, which meet their age-appropriate needs, with the goal of reducing human contact as they grow and prepare them, gradually, to return to the wild
When the chimpanzees reach the CCC, they have often had very little interaction with their conspecifics. They have not acquired the basic skills of their peers’ vital social community life of chimpanzees. Therefore, they must relearn everything about life in the wild, which includes learning to: climb, find food in the bush, make a nest, but most importantly the basics of group communication. Without these skills, it would be unrealistic to try to release them. The CCC team is there to help with these skills.
The sanctuary is located in the heart of a national park in the forest. Released chimpanzees rarely see the CCC staff. Tourism is not prohibited, but the remote location and difficult access to the sanctuary naturally limits the number of visitors (a few dozen a year).
The release of adult chimpanzees has always been one of the main objectives of the CCC. Some examples of how the CCC operates and rehabilitates orphaned chimpanzees:
- Learn to live in the forest for years, with other chimpanzees, daily outings in the forest with CCC staff.
- Over the years of their rehabilitation, the chimpanzees are gradually introduced to the forest, accompanied by staff.
- Chimpanzees have large electrified enclosures where they can run, play, eat, make nests, etc..
Release of chimpanzees is a very difficult and very controversial. It must meet the strict criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and veterinary tests should be performed prior to release so as not to ‘liberate’ animals carrying diseases. Release programs have been attempted many times. The association HELP Congo has released, since 1996, more than thirty chimpanzees in Congo Brazzaville with good results, and there have been multiple births from the released chimpanzees! The CCC released its first group of chimpanzees June 27th 2008, in the National Park of Upper Niger. The preparation took many years of effort. In the case of CCC, the goal was to reinforce the wild chimpanzees’ population that are present in the park. The presence of CCC staff not far from released chimpanzees helps protect the entire area and its wildlife! Female chimpanzees are equipped with VHF collars and Argos-VHF for males, allowing them to be remotely monitored by telemetry but also via the Argos system for males (GPS positions transmitted over the internet daily through the Argos system). It is too early to draw conclusions about the success or failure of this released, but some females have been seen with wild chimpanzees, they usually stay together and are self suffisant. Their first years of freedom are encouraging !
Since 2004, the CCC has been conducting campaigns to inform and educate the local population living in the vicinity of the National Park Haut-Niger about the actions and goals of the CCC to protect chimpanzees and the Park (harmful results of illegal logging , poaching, …). The CCC does this by organizing conferences and debates in villages, as well as distributing information in the form of stickers, fliers or posters. Radio spots in local languages, are also broadcast throughout the country. The results have been encouraging. New campaigns will be conducted on a regular basis.
Overall, the CCC seeks to contribute to the conservation of chimpanzees in Guinea by educating human communities locally and nationally, caring for the orphan chimpanzees which are still undergoing rehabilitation at the sanctuary and monitoring the released individuals. Since 2007, the project has also been working more closely with Guinean Government officials and local and park authorities to protect the Haut-Niger National Park and its population of wild chimpanzees.